Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
In celebration of opening a state-of-the-art lab related to alternative energy, Montana State University-Northern is holding an open house in its Applied Technology Center Thursday. “Hopefully we’re going to have some kind of an economic impact. It’s just the baby steps to where we could be producing these fuels,” Greg Kegel, dean of Northern’s College of Technical Sciences said about Northern’s Bioenergy Innovation and Testing Center that opened in February. The lab will be used to test fuels and lubricants such as biodiesel to make sure they meet the standards set by ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials. Producers need to meet the standards before they can market their products, Kegel said. The open house will include presentations by Tom Livers of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality; Tony Priete, director of the Montana Department of Commerce; Cascade County Commissioner Peggy Beltrone, a member of the national steering committee for 25x25, the effort to have at least 25 percent of the nation’s fuel consumption provided by renewable energy by 2025; and Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Senior Vice President Lyle Nichols and several others from the Kiewit construction company will also attend. Kegel said the support of the Peter Kiewet construction company, based in Omaha, Neb., and the governor and legislature were crucial in setting up the center. Kiewit donated equipment worth almost half a million dollars, while the state made a special appropriation of $250,000 to purchase equipment, Kegel said. The end result is the only fuel certification lab in the state, and one of the best-equipped labs in the region. Kegel said that when a Technician was in to calibrate some of the equipment, the technician said Northern’s facility probably has some of the most state-of-the-art technology in this part of the country. The lab is already connecting with local businesses. Kegel said that includes doing testing work for Earl Fisher Biofuels of Chester, which is working to eventually produce 1 million gallons of biodiesel a year for local use from locally grown crops, and for Peaks and Prairies LLC of Malta, which produces biolubricants using Montana-grown crops. Kegel said the goal is to eventually provide services to the entire state, and outside of the state, with the lab hopefully paying for its own operation and maintenance. Work for out-of-state companies is already set, he added. Foundation Coal has signed a $200,000 contract to have the lab test fuel additives, which could increase efficiency and reduce t h e amo u n t o f f u e l n e e d e d . Foundation Coal burns about 35 million gallons of diesel a year, Kegel said, while Kiewit uses nearly that much. “Both companies are interested in anything that can increase efficiency and reduce the bottom line,” he said. The equipment donated by Kiewit an intercoupled plasma spectrometer can be used to test lubricants, such as those from a transmission or crank case, to see how many particles are suspended in the oil. That can determine how much wear the engine has experienced, allowing companies to retire equipment to be serviced rather than waiting for it to break down, Kegel said. The lab is also being used to research advances in biofuels, such as finding ways for them to perform better in cold weather and to reduce emissions, he said. Northern hired a research biochemist last August, Jon Soriano, Ph.D., who is working on the research. Kegel said the staff is also working on making the testing done by the lab extremely user-friendly. They are setting up a Web site where the results of testing will be posted immediately, eliminating any wait for customers having biofuels tested to find the results of the tests. The open house starts at 11 a.m. in the Applied Technology Center, with the speakers scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. Guided tours of the center will start at 1 p.m.